GLASGOW: Martin O’Neill has urged Celtic’s fans to keep the faith despite a shattering defeat at Hearts that could have ended their hopes of a third straight Scottish League title.
Austin McCann smashed in a last-minute winner off the bar to give Hearts a 2-1 victory at Tynecastle that leaves Celtic eight points adrift of Rangers with only one game in hand and time for a revival fast running out.
The defeat rounded off a perfect day for Rangers, who earlier booked their place in the Scottish Cup final with a 4-3 win over Motherwell and are looking set for a domestic treble.
Rangers can now afford to lose their final Old Firm match of the season on April 27 and still go on to claim the title while Celtic’s best chance of silverware is now the UEFA Cup.
O’Neill’s side travel to Portugal on Thursday for the second leg of their semi-final after a 1-1 draw with Boavista in the first match at Parkhead.
The Northern Irishman acknowledged that the defeat had made the trip to Portugal even more important.
“The lads are understandably disappointed in the dressing room and I’m sure the fans feel the same,” he said.
“But we have a semi-final and we know what we have to do. We have to score for a start and win the game.
“We have done it before and I hope by the time Monday comes we will have got ourselves in the right frame of mind and be determined for the remaining games.
“After beating Stuttgart we had an exceptionally difficult game against Liverpool and we have proved that we are capable of doing it.
“It’s naturally going to be a hard game in midweek and in the league, and I wouldn’t write us off just yet.”
O’Neill recognised that Rangers are now in pole position but he was hopeful Hearts could make life equally difficult for them when they visit Tynecastle.
“It is out of our hands,” O’Neill acknowledged. “But if Hearts show the same commitment, as I’m sure they will here against Rangers then I’m sure it will be a hard game.”
Everything looked to be going to plan for Celtic when Henrik Larsson scored his 39th goal of the season to put them ahead just before the hour mark.
But English journeyman Phil Stamp set up a dramatic finale and McCann snatched victory at the death.
Hearts manager Craig Levein revealed that Motherwell’s battling display against Rangers earlier in the day had inspired his side.
“The lads watched the Motherwell game early on and we spoke about how competitive we have to be to beat Rangers and Celtic. We harassed and chased them from the first whistle to the last, like Motherwell.” – AFP